Despite the centrality that violence and “terrorism” play in geopolitics, few actually talk and listen at length to the people-on-the ground in these extreme situations. Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta has written an especially helpful book about such conversations. She herself is a Canadian Quaker-Jewish activist who lived in Jerusalem from 1988-95 and then interviewed Palestinians and Israeli Jews during visits between 2003 and 2007. Her lengthy book is primarily a casebook about political resistance. The book is organized around in-depth questions about how Palestinians and Jewish Israelis deal with the violence of Israel, how they frame ideological vs strategic nonviolence, how they deal with the complications of working together, and crucially – these discussions evaluate strategies. The people interviewed are astute observers and are highly motivated to be effective.
What emerges are thought-provoking, experience-based views on group process and leadership, pragmatic decisions around violence and exposure to danger, evaluations of strategies like tax-strikes and “physical obstruction of the oppressive machinery”, and reactions to raw Israeli power and impunity and cruelty. Many of the people interviewed are not ideologically non-violent and “relatively few…condemned all violence.” Most aim to alter the very conditions that make for violence and oppression. The people interviewed engage in direct action, “often hazardous, sometimes illegal.” Dialogue groups were insufficient, even a “smoke screen that said everything’s okay.”
Resistance takes many forms. One often hears about Palestinian steadfastness, “sumud.” It is a form of non-violent resistance that can boil down to surviving and doing basic things like feeding one’s children. Or resistance through boycotts, or not being forced to leave, or through developing Palestinian institutions in every field. A handicapped Palestinian beaten by soldiers said “We have the power of the mind. We have the power of speech. We have the power of humanity…But even while they were beating me, I was talking with them. Like: ‘Are you really happy with what you are doing? Think about yourself. Think about your humanity.’” Nativ, Jewish Israeli, joined Ta’ayush (“life in common”) and spoke about becoming an activist: “…it totally took over my life…I allowed myself to feel these things, I allowed myself to know – which is what most Israelis don’t allow themselves to do.” Nawaf was a cofounder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). He had been in prison 13 years and his brother was shot. “He couldn’t think of more blood being spilt – the idea of revenge just seems insane to him. He just doesn’t want any more blood. And he was talking about the futility of it.”
There are interviews with refusniks, with Israeli and Palestinian Combatants for Peace, and with the organizers of joint initiatives like the Committee Against the Iron Fist. Kaufman-Lacusta includes a lengthy quote from a conference on pragmatic nonviolent activism with Gene Sharp that was hosted by Palestinians in Bethlehem, 2005. This was an auspicious moment of support and advice as it was shortly before Israel, Canada and other countries shifted funds from humanitarian aid to “securitizing” the Palestinian situation, right before the cycle of massive Israeli military assaults on Gaza.
There is much about the two Intifadas, about the functioning of the Israeli opposition groups like Machsom Watch (Checkpoint Watch) and Physicians for Human Rights/Israel, about ideological vs pragmatic frameworks, about resistance on the ground.
As nation states become overtly repressive and violent towards internal dissent, and with many police departments now trained and equipped by Israel, this book offers many helpful insights. There is a conceptual thread in the book that has to do with strategic nonviolence. With the increasingly violent Israeli state, and with Israel buoyed by strategic international alliances, the political dimension is pivotal especially to the ground up Palestinian movement. The conceptual analyses are astute and eminently applicable to other resistance movements
Judy Deutsch is Executive Member-at-Large and a past President of Science for Peace.